Thursday, January 21, 2021

Writing for lazy people: an interview with Tim Gutteridge

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the third instalment of our 9mm interview series for 2021 - we're back on a regular track now after almost a year's hiatus. 

This author interview series has now been running for over a decade (though perhaps we shouldn't really count the last year), and today marks the 215th overall edition. Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. 

My plan is to to publish 40-50 new author interviews in the 9mm series this year. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. Some amazing writers.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been featured, let me know in the comments or by sending me a message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. Even as things with this blog may evolve moving forward, I'll continue to interview crime writers and review crime novels.

Today is a bit of a special day as we're doing something for the very first time on Crime Watch. While I've interviewed several crime writers for 9mm over the years who write in other languages and are translated into English, and have interviewed translators themselves about the art of crime fiction translation for a large feature in a US magazine, I have never until now included a translator in the 9mm series.

Thanks to the hard work of a diverse array of literary translators, English-speaking mystery fans are increasingly able to enjoy compelling tales from all parts of our globe, that originated in a wide array of languages. Personally, I love this. Not just the Nordic Noir wave of the past decade-plus, but Japanese mysteries, Afrikaans crime, Latin American noir translated from Spanish and Portuguese, and more.

Recently I read my first-ever Uruguayan crime novel, CROCODILE TEARS by Mercedes Rosende. It's a new 2021 release from Bitter Lemon Press, a terrific small publisher that has done so much to bring a huge variety of excellent authors from all over the world to a broader readership. Here's the blurb: 
The setting: Montevideo’s Old Town, with its dark alleys, crumbling facades and watchful residents. The gig: an armoured truck robbery. The cast: Diego, a failed kidnapper with weak nerves, Ursula Lopez, an amateur criminal with an insatiable appetite, the Hobo, a notorious hoodlum with excessive self-confidence. Dr Antinucci, a shady lawyer with big plans. And finally, Leonilda Lima, a washed-out police inspector with a glimmer of faith in justice.

Mercedes Rosende is a Uruguayan lawyer, journalist, and author whose novels and short stories have won several awards in Latin America and Germany. CROCODILE TEARS is her first novel to be translated into English, but while we are experiencing Rosende's story, it is the words of Tim Gutteridge we're reading. 

Originally from Scotland and now living in Spain, Tim is a literary translator specialising in Spanish-to-English translation. He has been an Assistant Professor at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, and has also worked as a bilingual lexicographer and English language teacher. Tim has translated fiction, non-fiction, and theatre. CROCODILE TEARS is his first crime novel translation. 

But for now, he becomes the 215th person (and first translator) to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
My reading habits are a bit unusual as I spend a lot of time keeping tabs on what’s new in Spanish, particularly by authors whose work hasn’t been translated. One Spanish crime series that I like a lot is by Berna González Harbour, and the protagonist is a female police officer, Superintendent Ruiz. The latest in the series is called El sueño de la razón (The Sleep of Reason) and it gives a very good portrayal of the sense of lost optimism that a lot of people in Spain have felt for the last decade or so. It’s a correction to the perception of sun and siestas that many outsiders have.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I think the first paperback I read was Down with skool! by Geoffrey Willans and Roger Searle. It’s one of those books that works at lots of levels, so I could read and enjoy it as a 7-year-old but looking back I realize it’s also a rather surreal and very scathing take on the whole English boarding school thing: Malory Towers meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Anyone interested in why the English ruling classes are generally such a bunch of ghastly sociopaths might want to start here.

3. Before the first novel you'd translated, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Well, translation is really writing for lazy people. Someone else does all the hard work – plot, character, style etc – and I just come along and copy it but in a different language. I blog as well, and also write the odd piece for professional journals. Perhaps inevitably, I also have a half-written play in my bottom drawer, about the Scottish colony of Darien (on the Panama isthmus) a crazy scheme that was meant to make Scotland rich by allowing it to control the Atlantic-Pacific trade route in the early modern period but instead bankrupted the country and precipitated us into union with England. On the journey out to Darien (which is tropical) the holds of the Scottish ships were full of horsehair wigs and woollen socks to trade with the natives. The mind boggles.

4. When you’re not translating, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I think the past year has really made me appreciate the little things: spending time with my kids, walking the dogs, baking, hanging out with friends on the beach.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
When people think of Edinburgh they tend to think of the Castle and the Royal Mile. I actually think Edinburgh Castle is one of the worst castles in Scotland. It’s great from the outside but inside it’s just a boring shell, trashed by the military for a couple of centuries. Edinburgh’s best-kept secret (until now) is Portobello beach. I love the fact that, pretty much regardless of the weather, it’s busy. People play beach volleyball on windy grey October days, they swim without wetsuits in November. There’s something very Scottish about the refusal to make concessions to reality. It’s life-affirming – but also a bit mad.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I’m struggling to imagine what that movie would be like – or who would pay to see it! But I’m going to plump for Javier Bardem – directed by Pedro Almodóvar.

7. Of your translations, which is your favourite or particularly special, and why?
Because I work as both a literary and a non-literary translator, the reality is that a lot of my translation work isn’t in general circulation. Seeing reviews of my published work actually makes me think fondly of all the unpublished stuff – I guess it’s a bit like a parent remembering the other kids when one of them wins prizes. Apart from that, I’d like to mention my first book translation, The Mountain That Eats Men, by Ander Izagirre. It’s a piece of narrative non-fiction about 20th century Bolivia, which describes the situation of children working in the country’s exhausted tin and silver mines. The book fell into a bit of a marketing black hole so didn’t get much attention but the source text was great and really wide-ranging – from Quechua-inflected dialogue to wonderful descriptions from 17th century colonial chronicles – and I’m still proud of how I handled it.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first asked to translate a crime novel? Or when you first saw your first translation in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
Crocodile Tears is actually the first crime novel I’ve translated, although I hope there will be more to come. The business of getting commissioned to do a given translation varies from book to book, and you have to remember that acquiring the rights and commissioning the translator are separate processes, so that even if you’ve been involved with the project by doing a sample or helping the agent to pitch it, there’s always the possibility that another translator will get the gig. I try to deal with that by not being too invested in any given project until I’ve actually signed the contract – and making sure I always have other projects on the go or in the pipeline. I’m wondering now, though, if I missed an opportunity and should have taken a bath in champagne.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you've had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Cue the sound of tiny violins as I tell you that I have only ever signed one book and never done an author event or attended a literary festival. Perhaps that will change in 2021.

Thank you Tim. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch

You can read more about Tim and his translation work at his website, and follow him on Twitter

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